Fiji police receive vital human rights training to improve public image

Several cases of police brutality have emerged in Fiji over the years and some cases are still awaiting its moment in court. Three police officers were recently charged together with military officials for the violent beating of two prison escapees, which was captured on film and circulated online more than two years ago. Recent efforts have been made to hold the police accountable for these recent abuses.

The UN Human Rights Regional Office for the Pacific is working to improve the situation by providing substantive human rights training to police officers at the Fiji Police Academy and around the country on international human rights standards and face the challenges in applying human rights in their work.  

Twenty-seven officers of the Fiji Police took part in the human rights training, followed by a workshop with twenty-eight Senior Managers. The UN Human Rights Office regularly provides human rights training to law enforcement in the Pacific and this training, which was held at the end of last year in Suva, will be followed with further collaboration with the Fiji Police. Many of the participants are hoping that this capacity-building effort will be a positive step towards building trust and respect within its force and with the public.

“Compliance with human rights and the Fijian Constitution by all police officers will not only ensure trust and respect, but improve the image of the Fiji Police as being an efficient law enforcement agency," said Sergeant Pal of the Fiji Police Academy, who took part in organizing the training.

Catherine Phuong, Head of OHCHR Pacific, stressed at the beginning of the training, that highlighting shortfalls is not the proper approach for improvement. “Let me assure you that we are not here to point a finger at the current way of policing in Fiji, but to support and help improve certain policing standards when it comes to dealing with human rights,” she said.

Police officers were instructed on how to adequately prepare and train officers in a human rights-based approach to policing, including in use of force, how to conduct police investigations and interviews, and how to ensure police accountability.

Johan Olhagen, a Human Rights Officer from the UN Human Rights Office headquarters in Geneva, traveled to Fiji to lead the training initiative. “Human rights laws can seem abstract on paper, but they are in fact an integral part of a modern and professional police service,” Olhagen said. “It is essential to integrate human rights in every aspect of police work, from planning and oversight by senior officers, to the acts and behaviors of individual police officers in their everyday routines.”

After more than 40 hours of discussions, group presentations, including on the essential principle of non-discrimination in law enforcement, the participants shared their feedback and future expectations where many felt that they would like to see this course be an integral part of the regular Basic Recruits Training, so that all police officers can learn how to uphold human rights from the start.

The training team emphasized that the Office, through the Regional Office for the Pacific, is on-hand to support the Fiji Police as it continues its development towards becoming a modern law enforcement institution built on respect for democratic values, rule of law and international human rights standards.

“International human rights standards for law enforcement are not complicated, but they have to be part of the organizational culture of the police in order to be second nature of the officers on the streets,” Olhagen said.

15 January 2016

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